Et Tu, Scotland?
Will Scotland do a Belgium?
It is not hard to be pretty dismissive of Belgium. As a country it has offered little to the wider world beyond its sickly beer and sicklier chocolate (plus Tintin, to be charitable). Now it appears to be engaged in one of its regular bouts of fratricidal introspection. Never mind “name five famous Belgians”, discovering five of them who like each other seems to be a challenge. As The Times reported on Saturday, there has been no proper national government there for three months and it is being seriously asked whether the place should be split between Flanders and Wallonia, with Brussels becoming a kind of Washington DC for the EU. So it could be Belgium RIP. Will anybody notice?Which would be a real headscratcher, as I've heard Brussels now has a muslim-majority city council...
And as an aside about local Brussels government,
Freddy Thielemans, the Mayor of Brussels, prohibited a demonstration against the Islamization of Europe, planned to be held next September 11 in front of the European Parliament buildings. Mayor Thielemans is worried that the demonstration will upset the large immigrant population of Brussels. Over half the inhabitants of the Brussels region are of foreign origin, many of them from Morocco. According to the mayor there is a real danger of violence between demonstrators and Muslims living in the neighbourhood. The latter might not tolerate native Europeans protesting against their continent becoming Eurabia.But I digress.
Thielemans is a member of the Parti Socialiste (PS), a Belgian party which caters for the Muslim population. The PS is the largest party in Brussels, holding 17 of the 47 seats in the city council. 10 of the 17 PS-councillors are Muslims. The PS governs Brussels in a coalition with the Christian-Democrats, who have 11 councillors, of whom 2 are Muslims and 3 are immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa. Only 13 of the 28 councillors in the governing coalition of the city are native Belgians. Thielemans is the most conspicuous of these. He is an atheist who is fond of Muslims, not because he respects religious people, but because he hates Christians.
Back to Scotland:
Before we scoff, it is worth wondering whether the United Kingdom is destined to share the fate of Belgium, though at the same time barely recognising its own misfortune.
Within the space of a few weeks this year an administration was formed in Northern Ireland that contains Sinn Fein, a party committed to removing Ulster from the UK and merging it with the Republic of Ireland. Soon afterwards the SNP, a party whose purpose is to release Scotland from the UK, was sworn in to head the executive in Edinburgh. Not long after that Labour was compelled to accept a coalition arrangement in Wales with Plaid Cymru, a party with independence as its ultimate objective. If this were a foreign land, these developments would be reported as the death rattle of a nation.
Of the three events, the rise of the SNP is unquestionably the most significant. It is in charge of an administration (albeit a minority one) rather than being a mere junior partner, as are Sinn Fein and Plaid Cymru. Polls in Scotland, furthermore, indicate that – while there is not, at present, a majority for an outright divorce from the UK – there is strong support for a much more open marriage. Alex Salmond, the able, astute and populist First Minister (a sort of Ken McLivingstone but with talent) will not secure a referendum on independence by 2010 as he wants, but if his party is reelected a year after that his mandate for a ballot on Scotland’s future will become undeniable. At the least, his country is likely to emerge as the British equivalent of Quebec; nor is the complete division of Scotland from England – akin to the secession of Slovakia from Czechoslovakia in 1993 – unthinkable.